As the countdown to the holidays begins, we’ve already felt the change in weather, and with this change comes flu season. Thousands of Americans die each year from the flu, making it very important to get your seasonal flu shot.

Flu and the common cold are two very different viruses. The easiest way to differentiate the flu from the common cold is that it is more severe and can include a fever, nausea, body aches and overwhelming feeling of weakness.

“When an individual has the flu, he or she starts becoming contagious a day before the symptoms are obvious,” says Andrea Mora, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. “These same symptoms can last anywhere from five to seven days, which means a significant amount of work or school will be missed.”

One of the common misconceptions of getting the flu shot is people believe they get the flu just by receiving the shot.

“This is not true,” says Mark Bremick, R.Ph., instructor for the department of pharmacy practice at the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy. “The shot contains a dead virus so that there is no way for an individual to get the flu. Those cold-like symptoms are an immune response getting your body ready to fight against these viruses.”

Another common misconception is that the flu shot should treat an infected individual.

“The seasonal flu shot is not to treat the flu, but rather it is to prevent the flu,” Dr. Mora says. “This is why it is important to get the flu shot as soon as possible. The season for getting this shot begins in September, but it is never too late to get the shot.”

There are also several practices to help the flu stay away. Constantly wash your hands, avoid close contact with sick individuals, and carry hand sanitizer for everyday use.

There are several locations where flu shots are administered, including local hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. Speak to your local pharmacist if you have any questions about the seasonal flu shot.